Equestrianism: Gulliksen's glory ride

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The Independent Online
GEIR GULLIKSEN got the better of a long-standing friend when he defeated John Whitaker in yesterday's international speed contest, one of the supporting classes for the three legs of the World Cup final which is being decided in the Scandinavium here this weekend.

The Norwegian's success (albeit in a relatively minor competition) was the realisation of an ambition that he has held since coming to the Scandinavium as a spectator and autograph collector some 22 years ago. His victory was the first for Norway in this arena.

Back in 1979, Gulliksen was based with the Whitaker family in Yorkshire for about six months. Yesterday he walked the course with John Whitaker - whose clear round on the nifty chestnut mare, Foxhill Butterfly, was the best until Gulliksen went flat out on Baltimoor. "We hit the right spots everywhere," the delighted Norwegian said.

Whitaker, who frequently works through Gulliksen when buying or selling horses, also gives him advice on show jumping. "I'm always too keen, John tells me, to keep it smooth," the Norwegian said.

It would be untrue to say that he followed these instructions to the letter. With his flapping elbows, Gulliksen was hardly poetry in motion - but he nevertheless won by a margin of 1.47sec and no one in the City of Gothenburg could have been happier.

On Thursday evening, John Whitaker was naturally disappointed with his two mistakes in the first leg of the World Cup final on Virtual Village Grannusch, which had left him back in 23rd place.

He thought that the first problem on the difficult distance into the double at fence 11 was partly rider error ("I was going for three strides instead of four") but he could not pin-point the reason for hitting the first part of the double at fence 13.

Grannusch, who won the first two legs of the World Cup final a year ago, was expected to be the better of the two British horses on Thursday evening. However, show jumpers can be unpredictable and it was Michael Whitaker's mount, Virtual Village Ashley, who got off to the better start when making his only error at the last of the 14 fences for 15th place.